2018 Speaker Introduction Series: Angela Walker
Angela Walker is an international attorney, organizer, and writer whose mission is to address the rise of sexual violence in armed conflict by inspiring more women and girls to become leaders in global justice. Throughout her career, she has facilitated conflict resolution workshops in the aftermath of the genocide in Cambodia, clerked at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and represented survivors of sexual violence in the context of armed conflict. Her book chapter, 21st Century Paradigms on Military Force for Humane Purposes, with co-author Ambassador David Scheffer, will be published this year.
The topic of her talk is, "Women in Global Justice Rise: Ending an Era of Impunity for Systematic Violence" and we had the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions surrounding her interests and passions.
TEDxNorthwesternU: What is TED to you?
Angela Walker: TED to me is a community of people who are willing to sit through an experience in which they are challenged, questioned, and made to feel uncomfortable in order to find points of connection with the unknown. We fear what we don’t know. And TED helps people overcome fear in order to better understand our humanity and our world. With that understanding, people become more equipped to enact the change they seek.
TEDxNorthwesternU: What kind of mediums, outside of law, do you think are available to empower women to combat institutional injustices?
Angela Walker: Who you are, what you stand for, and your voice are the most powerful tools you have. With these tools, you can combat institutional injustices by speaking truth to power. Some of the most important spaces in which to fight against injustice are your most intimate ones. These can also be the most terrifying. When your humanity isn’t recognized, know when to speak up and know when to walk away. Both are powerful acts of standing up for your humanity.
We start small before we go big. You cannot become an international judge on the same day you decide to become one. Global justice needs you to understand the meaning of justice in your local communities. International criminal law is a new field. It needs voices and experts to reflect the realities on the ground. One of the points of disconnect with our international criminal tribunals is that often they are not physically located in the communities for which justice is being determined. Meaning, witnesses to crimes, survivors of crimes, and local justice systems are often far away from the places where judgment is being decided internationally. And so we need women who understand the realities on the ground in order to ensure that all voices in a conflict are actually reflected in proceedings before international mechanisms.
So, embrace the power of your identity and your voice, really know your values and what you stand for, then get the skills you need to uphold these values for yourself and others. Become the expert. Whether it means providing services for survivors of sexual violence, raising awareness through teaching, getting your law degree to become a judge or lawyer, using your language skills to become an investigator in places of silence, or getting involved in peace-building. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, out of 1,187 peace agreements between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 percent of mediators, 5 percent of witnesses and signatories, and 8 percent of negotiators! But, when women do participate in peace agreements, those agreements are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years.
Start speaking out for more transparency in the selection process of judges around the world. Women should be judges because they are qualified to be on the bench and because they make up half our world’s population. Most importantly, speak your own truth to others. I can’t emphasize this enough. The biggest change in global justice happens when we speak out on behalf of ourselves. So, when safety permits, share your story with others. Create a leadership salon. I did so in DC where women with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and careers come together to work on our leadership skills. We start with understanding and then speaking our stories. Our stories explain our values and why we do the work we do. Then we host workshops—on public speaking, marketing, and community organizing—through which we apply our values and work to these skill-sets. Opening this kind of space for one another creates a ripple effect—for our voices and leadership.
We all have power, it’s a matter of working together to carve out space for ourselves and one another to voice that power.
TedXNorthwesternU: What are some sensitivities within your field of work that you must learn to navigate as someone coming from a place of privilege?
Angela Walker: As someone who grew up with wealth and health privileges, I learned from my family, in particular from my grandfather, that we are not entitled to privileges. But we are entitled to basic human rights no matter our circumstances. My work centers around creating space for people to assert their voice in global justice so that collectively we can uphold our fundamental human rights. I believe in the power of everyone’s voice, but those of us who come to the table with more privileges are often listened to more readily than those who come from fewer privileges. This is why global justice requires our collective efforts.
I want to dispel the entitled notion that leadership in global justice is about putting on a white cape to go “save” other people. Rather, it is about creating space for people to be seen and heard in order for their rights to be recognized. I have represented men on death row in the U.S. and in Malawi, boys and girls wielding guns on Chicago’s South Side, and survivors of torture and rape around the world. When I first meet my clients, there is often some initial distrust—because I’m white, because I’m a woman, and let’s face it, because I’m a lawyer. And I am not entitled to the privilege of their trust. My job is to show them who I am, what my values are, and why I care so that they can trust the space we collectively create in order for their humanity to be recognized in global justice—no matter what they’ve done or survived.